Best young rider twelve months ago, Roman Kreuziger (Astana) lines up at the Giro d’Italia with serious aspirations of overall victory after a quietly assured opening to the season, but the Czech is also keen to open his account for the season with an early stage victory.
In the absence of an overwhelming favourite, the Kreuziger's candidacy for the maglia rosa has gained increasing traction among observers in the build-up to the race. Now in his second season at Astana, he admitted that he approaches the Giro in more confident frame of mind than he did in 2011.
“Compared to last year, I’m more relaxed. I needed this time to make myself at home at Astana,” Kreuziger told Gazzetta dello Sport. “Above all, I had a good winter. I did a lot of training a long way from home but they’re efforts that are paying off and it was worth doing it.”
Although yet to taste victory in 2012, Kreuziger has been consistently at the business end of affairs to date. After third place at Tirreno-Adriatico in March, he looked comfortable in the leading group at both the Giro del Trentino and the Tour de Romandie, and the 26-year-old is targeting an early stage victory to signal his grander ambitions.
“At Romandie I made another step forward and I’m still improving now,” he said. “Yes, I must say I’m ready for the Giro, even if I haven’t won yet this season. But that makes me hungrier: I want to win a stage straightaway.”
While the final week of racing in the Dolomites is ultimately expected to decide the destination of the pink jersey, Kreuziger is looking to make gains on his fellow overall contenders from the moment he rolls down the start ramp in Herning on Saturday. He made some changes to his position over the winter in a bid to improve his performances against the clock.
“I’ll look to gain seconds on my rivals, it would be important for the moral and for the confidence,” he said. “I made some changes [to my position]. I have a wider saddle and longer cranks – 177.5mm instead of 175mm. I feel better. Even Contador used to have the same problem of slipping forward that I did.”
Early in his career, Kreuziger avoided the Giro d’Italia, preferring the steadier climbs of the Tour de France, and he believes that stage 14 to Cervinia, is the one best suited to his characteristics. “The last 70km are really hard. The Col de Joux is long, and then you have another 27km climb to the finish,” he noted. “I suffer on the really steep climbs, but the gradients there suit me very well.”
Kreuziger reiterated his credo that his former Liquigas teammate Ivan Basso is the favourite, citing the man from Varese’s experience and that of his team. “There are a lot of us on more or less the same level, but Basso is the one you’d fear the most,” he said. “Ivan knows how to race, he knows how to manage himself and he has a big motor and a strong team.”
Kreuziger gave little away when pressed on rumours linking him with a switch to Omega Pharma-QuickStep when his contract expires at the end of the season. Both squads are supplied by Specialized, who facilitated Kreuziger’s collaboration with American coach Neal Henderson when he arrived at Astana in the winter of 2010. “The transfer market is never closed, but I live it without pressure. My manager is working on it,” Kreuziger said.